Legal Dictionary


Legal Definition of hanging

Related terms

Definition of hanging


hanging (countable and uncountable; plural hangings)

  1. (uncountable) The act of hanging a person (or oneself) by the neck in order to execute that person (or to commit suicide).
  2. (countable) A public event at which a person is hanged.

Further reading

Hanging is the lethal suspension of a person by a ligature. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck", though it formerly also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain "hanging".

Methods of judicial hanging

There are four ways of performing a judicial hanging - suspension hanging, the short drop, the standard drop, and the long drop.


Suspension, like the short drop, causes death by using the weight of the body to tighten the trachea with the noose. Prisoners are often reported to have little or no struggle before they go limp, because their jugular vein and carotid arteries are blocked and blood flow to the brain is reduced. For example, John Smith described his pain vanishing after seeing a great blaze of glaring light. The Royal Navy formerly hanged mutineers by hoisting them up from the deck of the ship by their necks, using a rope passing over a yardarm.

Short drop

The short drop is performed by placing the condemned prisoner on the back of a cart, horse, or other vehicle, with the noose around the neck. The object is then moved away, leaving the person dangling from the rope. The condemned prisoner dies of strangulation, which typically takes between ten and twenty minutes. Before 1850, it was the main method.[citation needed] A ladder was also commonly used with the condemned being forced to ascend, after which the noose was tied and the ladder pulled away or turned (hence the colloquial slang for hanging "to be turned off"), leaving the condemned hanging. Another method involves using a stool, which the condemned is required to stand on, being kicked away.

Standard drop

The standard drop, which arrived as calculated in English units, involves a drop of between 4 and 6 feet (1.2 and 1.8 m) and came into use from 1866, when the scientific details were published by an Irish doctor, Samuel Haughton. Immediately its use spread to English-speaking countries and those where judicial systems had an English origin. It was considered a humane improvement on the short drop because it was intended to be enough to break the person's neck, causing immediate paralysis and immobilization (and probable immediate unconsciousness). This method was used to execute condemned Nazis under United States jurisdiction after the Nuremberg Trials including Joachim von Ribbentrop and Ernst Kaltenbrunner.

Long drop

This process, also known as the measured drop, was introduced to Britain in 1872 by William Marwood as a scientific advancement to the standard drop. Instead of everyone falling the same standard distance, the person's height and weight were used to determine how much slack would be provided in the rope so that the distance dropped would be enough to ensure that the neck was broken, but not so much that the person was decapitated. The careful placement of the eye or knot of the noose (so that the head was jerked back as the rope tightened) contributed to breaking the neck predictably.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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